General Plumbing Maintenance

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Plumbing Systems

 
Close and open the main water supply shutoff valve
(periodically) to ensure that it has not stuck in the
open position. Check fixture shutoff valves periodically
as well. Both the main valve and fixture valves must be
operable so water can be turned off in an emergency or
when plumbing repairs are necessary.

Loud vibrating noises (water hammer) are common in
plumbing supply lines. The condition occurs when you open
and close faucets rapidly and can often be corrected by
anchoring or fastening pipes more securely. Air chambers
can be added at the end of long pipe runs to solve the
problem, but their installation will probably require
help from a professional.

If hot water pipes are covered with insulation,
inspect them to ensure that the insulation is secure and
in good condition (annually). Replace or reposition loose
insulation to cover any open areas.

Have well water analyzed for bacterial contamination
and chemical pollution (every three to five years), or
more often if an unusual taste or odor problem occurs.

Clean aerators on faucets (every three or four
months, depending upon water hardness). You may need to
use a rust or scale remover to return them to normal
condition, or have them replaced.

Repair leaking faucets (as needed). If washer type,
replace faucet washer and check washer seat for
roughening; smooth if needed. If washerless, consult an
installation manual or the personnel in a plumbing or
hardware store for replacement procedures.

Turn off supply line to the outside faucets
(sillcocks) and drain lines (late fall), unless they are
frost-free hydrants and water lines are below the frost
line or located in a heated space.

Remove garden hoses from all outside faucets (late
fall). If any hose, even freeze-proof reinforced hose, is
left connected to a sillcock (frost-free or regular), the
faucet will not drain properly. It could freeze and burst
during winter months.

Inspect distribution and drainage pipes for leakage
or signs of weakness (annually). Look for rust,
corrosion, greenish deposits, and mineral deposits around
fittings, valves, household fixtures and along the length
of the pipe. (Note: Water from small holes can evaporate
before a drip forms, leaving only a telltale whitish or
colored deposit.)

Check the bathroom stool for leaks by adding a small
amount of red food coloring to the tank (annually). Check
the toilet bowl later. If the toilet bowl water is
colored red, water is seeping through from the tank. To
prevent wasting water and the extra cost it produces,
replace the tank ball.

Inspect the septic tank (every three to five years or
in the event of malfunction) by removing earth from the
top of the tank and the lid or inspection hatch. When the
depth of scum and solids exceeds one-half the liquid
depth of the tank, it should be cleaned. Also, the outlet
baffle should be visually inspected for deterioration.
With age, baffles may wear or corrode to the point that
they can no longer prevent floating scum from overflowing
the tank and clogging the filter field. As a rule, septic
tanks should be inspected and pumped every three to five
years to help prevent costly replacement of the filter
field. If a garbage disposal is connected to the septic
tank system, it may require more frequent cleaning. Do
not depend on chemical compounds or septic tank cleaners
poured down drains to eliminate the need for periodic
cleaning.

Inspect the leaching field of the septic system to
determine if failure has occurred (in the spring). Strong
odors or frequent wet spots may be an indication that the
soil field is unable to absorb the septic tank effluent.
Consult a professional if the condition persists or
reoccurs regularly.

If a grease trap exists in the waste disposal line of
a septic system, inspect it for build-up (annually) and
clean as needed. (Note: According to the Michigan
Plumbing Code, the use of grease traps is not required.)

Hot Water Heater

Check the temperature and pressure relief valve on
the hot water heater (annually) to be sure the lever is
functioning. Consult the operating manual or ask a
qualified plumber to show you the procedure. If the valve
does not work, have it replaced. (Note: Water will drain
from the line linked to this valve. Have a bucket handy
to catch it.) According to the Michigan Plumbing Code, a
pipe should be connected to the pressure relief valve,
extending down along the side of the tank to within 6
inches of the floor. This extension pipe prevents the
spraying of hot water when the valve is released or if a
malfunction occurs.  

Open the drain valve at the water heater tank bottom
and drain 2 or 3 gallons of water from the heater to
remove any sediment that may have accumulated in the tank
bottom (semiannually; if drain water contains a high
degree of sediment, drain more often). (Note: If this
procedure is not done regularly, residual sediment
particles may prevent the faucet valve from reseating
properly upon closing and the valve washer may have to be
replaced.)

Inspect the exhaust stack on gas and oil fired water
heaters to ensure that all pipe connections are secure
and free of rust, corrosion, and obstructions (annually).
(Note: It is essential that fuel fired water heaters vent
their gasses to the outside; escape of gasses inside the
home could be lethal and pose a fire hazard.)

If insulation has been mounted on the exterior of the
water heater tank, inspect it to ensure that the
insulation remains in the proper position, noting
particularly that it is not blocking the combustion air
inlet or the exhaust vent of gas or oil fired units
(quarterly).

Check the temperature setting on the hot water
heater. If it is above 120 degrees F or 140 degrees F, or
if your automatic dishwasher does not have its own
heating element, you are wasting energy.

Check the temperature gauge on the boiler of your
tankless water heater system (semiannually). Consult the
operating instructions to determine the correct
temperature setting.

Inspect the joints around the tankless heater
mounting plate (annually). If corroded or covered with
mineral deposits, determine the cause of the leak and
repair. It may be necessary to call a professional for
help on this item. If a gas or oil fired water heater is
located in the garage, basement, or utility area, do not
store gasoline in the same area. Gas fumes can build up
and be ignited by the water heater pilot light flame.